Via magazine
Via magazine - Your AAA Magazine

San Francisco's Secret Coast

San Mateo County’s oceanfront offers big views right in the Bay Area’s backyard.

of
  • People pet a goat at Harley Farms Goat Dairy, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Cindy Chew
    Photo caption
    Visitors get friendly with a goat at Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero.
  • fire pit at Ritz hotel with Pacific Ocean in background, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay
    Photo caption
    Visitors enjoy the fire pit at the Ocean Terrace at the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay.
  • Sea star and urchins at Fitzgerald Marine Preserve, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Rob Cala
    Photo caption
    Orange sea stars, purple sea urchins; the tide pools at Fitzgerald Marine Preserve in Moss Beach are full of life.
  • Lobster roll at Sam's Chowder House, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Sam's Chowder House
    Photo caption
    The buttery lobster roll at Sam's Chowder House in Half Moon Bay comes with slaw and potato chips.
  • Loaf of artichoke bread from Arcangeli Grocery, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Cindy Chew
    Photo caption
    Baked fresh all day, the warm, flaky artichoke bread tends to fly off the shelves at Arcangeli Grocery Co.
  • Elephant seals on beach at Ano Nuevo State Park, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: California State Parks
    Photo caption
    Elephant seals get vocal on Ano Nuevo State Park.
  • Cliffside view of Devil's Slide Trail park, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: San Mateo County Parks
    Photo caption
    A high view of the Devil's Slide Trail show how it hugs the cliff face.

Yes, Big Sur is amazing. But the oft overlooked San Mateo County coast offers just as much breathtaking scenery, good eats, and small-town charm—minus the long drive from the Bay Area. Here are seven things not to be missed.

Once a treacherous, cliff-hugging segment of Highway 1 that connected Montara to Pacifica, Devil’s Slide closed to vehicle traffic in 2013 with the debut of a new bypass tunnel—much to the delight of white-knuckled local commuters. Now that section of roadway has reopened as Devil's Slide Trail, an easily accessible, 1.3-mile multi-use path for hikers and bikers that offers spectacular views of Northern California’s rugged Pacific coastline.

Overlooking Half Moon Bay’s Pillar Point Harbor, where working fishing boats still anchor, Sam’s Chowder House is popular among locals and tourists for top-notch seafood classics at relatively affordable prices. The chowder is excellent, and so are the stuffed-to-the-brim lobster rolls.

Giant green anemones, spiny sea urchins, even wary octopuses: The intertidal zone of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach forms a real-life aquarium. Nature lovers who time their visits with low tide can pick their way around the edges of pools, watching (but not touching) the area’s abundant, diverse marine life.

The breathtaking coastline sometimes overshadows this area’s inland pastoral beauty. At Pescadero’s rustic Harley Farms Goat Diary, visitors scope out the goats on guided tours, then sample and perhaps take home some of the award-winning cheeses made from their milk.

The artichoke bread at Arcangeli Grocery Co. a general store in Pescadero, Calif. is justifiably famous. The bakery’s oven turns out fresh loaves all day, so you can grab a loaf hot enough to turn a side of artichoke dip gently runny—perfect for noshing while strolling Stage Road, the town’s quaint main drag.

In the entire Bay Area there may be no more astounding wildlife experience than standing 25 feet away from a massive, bellowing elephant seal bull. That’s what awaits visitors who walk the three-mile round-trip trail at Año Nuevo State Park, a breeding, birthing, and molting headquarters that hosts some 4,000 of these massive marine mammals a year. Self-guided and docent-led tours are available depending on the time of year.

The atmosphere gets downright romantic at the Ocean Terrace, which overlooks Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay’s stunning, bluff-lined grounds and serves dishes such as Monterey shrimp ceviche. Some nights a bagpiper contributes to the ambience, and there’s even s’mores and a bar offering hot chocolate on Friday and Saturday evenings.

This article was first published in July 2015 and updated in August 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.